For pure, unbridled joy nothing beats the transition from April to May, for me. Deciduous trees are covered with tiny pinpricks of intense yellow-green, washing the landscape with pointillist light and color. Birds are vocal, the skies are changeable, and everything is new.
This article arrived in my inbox while I was putting this post together. It’s great news about chocolate! The next time I feel a need to boost my eyesight while processing photos, I’ll grab a few squares.
The photos (with some notes on processing and on the plants):
- There are many willow species where I live. I think these are Pacific willows (Salix lucida) with big, bright yellow catkins, thriving in the wetlands at Juanita Bay Park east of Seattle. You can see a few of last year’s cattails in the foreground. The willow trees are way ahead of the cattails, which were just beginning to push their leaves up out of the ground when the photo was made, April 30th.
- This gorgeous old Weeping willow is a subject I return to again and again – you’ve seen it here before. The tree was probably planted here decades ago, when the area was a golf course. Now the venerable tree blends into wetlands allowed to go wild and is covered with native Licorice ferns, lichens and moss. I processed the photo to emphasize the mystical, romantic quality of the tree in its present setting.
- The ravine behind my apartment rejoices in Spring. Bigleaf maples are hung with chunky, dangling yellow flower clusters, and evergreens provide a cool blue-green backdrop for the maples’ intense celebration of color. The middle tree is an older Douglas fir with branches high up on its straight, solid trunk.
- A small and attractive native tree, this Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) grows near the Weeping willow in photo #2, which almost forms a curtain around it. The Red elderberry sports graceful cream-colored flower clusters that become brilliant red berries in Fall, making the tree pop out along roadsides. In this photo the willow branches are all around the elderberry, but I focused the lens only on the elderberry, using a wide, f2.5 aperture.
- This time I focused on the nearest willow branches and let the elderberry go out of focus, using the same aperture. Using Lightroom’s radial filter, I reduced the contrast and clarity of the elderberry branch a bit more.
- I’m not sure what species this is – possibly a Dryopteris fern, growing at Bellevue Botanical Garden. The interweaving of the two fronds as they grow intrigued me. Ferns are excellent photography subjects and lend themselves perfectly to black and white; remove distracting color and the repeating patterns and uniform structure of the plant become more obvious.
- How much longer before these two turtles slip back into the water? The sun is gone! They are Red-eared sliders, native to the US south, not the Pacific northwest. They’ve been popular pets for decades – I remember having them as a child – and sometimes, people release their pets into the wild and they reproduce. There is a similar native turtle, the Western painted turtle. The other Washington state turtle, the Western pond turtle, is almost extirpated here, thanks to habitat loss and the ingestion of eggs and hatchlings by bullfrogs, which (surprise!) humans also introduced.
- Another human introduction, but not an invasive one, is the beautiful Magnolia tree. This one may have been planted at Juanita Bay Park when it was a golf course.
- Pacific bleeding-heart (Dicentra formosa) is already forming seed pods by the end of April; the blooms are gone by mid May in lowland locations. Pacific bleeding heart is a native understory flower of woodlands, and a beauty it is, with abundant, fern-like foliage and pale pink flowers set on gracefully arcing stems. When the pea-like pods release the seeds, ants carry them home to eat a nutritious little appendage on the seed, leaving the rest…and Bleeding hearts are spread around. This photo was taken at a local park where the delicate plants thrive along a trail frequented by people and dogs. Somehow it all works out.
- The stunningly beautiful little Jeffrey’s shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) is another native flower. This individual however, was planted – at Bellevue Botanical Garden. I remember finding a group of Shooting stars along a wet, rocky trail in the mountains – what a thrill! I saw them again last year on Mt. Rainer on June 30th – a full two months later then they bloom down here. Altitude changes everything.
- Talk about tiny! The Piggyback plant’s flowers (Tolmiea menziesii) require patience to see well. The plant is named for the odd way its leaves sprout stems and new leaves. The flowers are tiny, finely detailed, subtly colored gems perched along the stem inches from the ground. I used a macro lens and luck for this photo, and I cropped it. The flowers grow at O.O. Denny Park in a busy, suburban town. Photographed on April 29th.
- Peer under a Vine maple tree’s leaves in spring, and you’ll find clusters of small, deep red and cream-colored flowers.
- At Juanita Bay Park, a nice marriage of native and non-native flowers: a decidedly hybrid Rhododendron grows amidst the delicate foliage of the native Pacific bleeding heart, whose flower is pictured above (#9).
- Looking up at O.O. Denny Park, I saw a maze of Bigleaf maple and Red alder branches with fresh leaves spread out to gather the sun.
- The leaves of Maidenhair fern make a frothy ground cover and are an attractive foil for larger, sturdier flowers that grow up through the foliage, at Bellevue Botanical Garden. I used a solarization effect in Color efex, sepia toner in Silver efex, and careful vignetting in Lightroom for this photo.
- The Star-flowered Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum stellatum, formerly Smilacina stellata) is another good subject for black and white photography, with its formally arranged, elegantly shaped leaves and clean white star-shaped flowers. This wildflower is native to much of North America; it’s leaves often interweave like those seen here, creating a dense, elegant carpet of deep green under the trees.
- A plum tree, perhaps. I don’t know – I didn’t check when I photographed this pretty blossoming tree at Bellevue Botanical Garden, on April 30th.
- Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are beautiful all year long, not least when their foliage is brand new. This was taken looking up and through the foliage, from under the tree. After shooting with a wide aperture, I made a tiny tweak to the tone curve, a few subtle color adjustments, and a little cropping and sharpening.
- A close-up of the same tree’s delicate, pendulous flower.
- I love the tightly coiled, intense energy of fern fiddleheads. This is the well-known Pacific northwest native, Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). It is evergreen, hardy and tough, growing in all sorts of difficult conditions – almost the antithesis of what one thinks of when one envisions a fern. But nature is full of surprises. And spring has many faces. I touched on just a few here and chose to use a variety of processing styles for the photos. After the dreary uniformity of our Pacific northwest winter, Spring’s multiplicity of form and color is a tonic I’m happy to drink.